Sound: Since stepping down from Nine Inch Nails, drummer Chris Vrenna has decided to broaden his scope and work more on the mastering and mixing side of things (Having worked with bands such as Adema and The Rasmus in the past). A powerful musician and composer, Vrenna signed on to compose the soundtrack to EA's 2001 video game release, American McGee's Alice.
And boy, is it a piece of work.
Vrenna's roots in NIN as a drummer make it not at all surprising that the mood of Alice is thick, atmospheric, percussive, and intensely creepy.
Structured by samplings of well near a hundred music boxes, malevolent string lines and industrial percussion, the mood given to Alice is one that successfully captures the innocence of Lewis Carol's original storyall the better to warp it and pervert it into something that fits all the blood and bones in the game itself. Alice is by no means a tame piece of music, and there have been times where, drifting off, I am lulled into the childishness of the melodies and instruments only to be suddenly startled back with the sudden realization of just how malicious this whole thing is!
One of this album's greatest qualities (Kudos to Vrenna for the thought he put into this) is the brilliance of the atmosphere and ambiance that goes into each track. In the game, the map is divided into several regions which must be explored, and Vrenna takes time to craft a superb musical environment for each, as well as the various events that take place, making for such variety that nothing sounds the same. Alice includes enchanting, foresty melodies (Wonderland Woods, Fungiferous Flora), carnival pomp (The Funhouse, Skool Daze), children's-story lullabies (Taking Tea In Dreamland), dark, watery dirges (Pool of Tears), and Vrenna's home turf of industrial, mechanical brilliance (Flying on the Wings of Steam, Late to the Jabberwocky), all of which are dreamily twisted into a singular, skin-crawling experience.
A couple tracks are meant to just be nerve-wracking. Battle with the Red Queen is very subdued and intense, with ghostly whispers running through the whole thing while the strings swell at the high points, while Pandemonium is much the same, but with an even lighter vibe and gorgeous, airy vocal melodies that just makes your spine chill with a feeling of dread.
My personal favorite is Time to Die. If you listen close, you can hear the music boxes winding down, getting slower and slower before exploding into a very intense and percussive climax.
For the record, I barely ever listen to The Centipede. The crying and blubbering children in the background are just that disturbing // 10
Lyrics: Being an instrumental album, there are no lyrics; but there are several sung lines, courtesy of Jesikka from the band Scarling, with beautiful soprano moans and airs that you would never get the chance to hear from Jesikka otherwise in her usual horror-rock material. Her highlights come in on Village of the Doomed, Skool Daze, Pandemonium and, especially, Late To the Jabberwocky.
There are several quirky interludes, lifted right out of the game, from various characters throughout the disc, especially the demented and emaciated Cheshire Cat. My favorite bit of dialogue comes from him at the beginning of Pandemonium: Here's a riddle: 'When is a croquet mallet like a Billy-club? ' I'll tell you: Whenever you want it to be // 9
Overall Impression: American McGee's Alice is an interesting and intriguing piece of material which presents Chris Vrenna as a musical genius outside of Trent Reznor's shadow. Well-crafted and thought-out, Alice is not just meant to induce jitters, but to create an entire world to do it. Wonderland itself has a personality, and you really get the feeling that the music is not so much put to the world, but generated by the place itself. All the pretty, childlike elements are still there, and they are indispensable as they create the skeleton for each piece. The evil feels more evil, because it is not simply fear for fear's sake, but is blatantly a warped version of something tame and innocent. Vrenna does a wonderful job with Wonderland, giving it a personality of it's own and also finding room to revisit his industrial roots to add even more depth to the project. American McGee must certainly be proud. // 10